Finland has long lagged behind neighbouring countries like Sweden in its ability to attract running tourists to compete in local events. Now that a generation of Finnish marathoners is set to hang up its running shoes for good, new blood from abroad may be required to help keep many events on their feet.
"The popularity of mass marathons appears to be declining and the trend is towards trail races and triathlons," said editor in chief of the Run in Finland website, Jarmo Koskela.
The website was launched on Friday and lists next summer’s premier events in Finland in an attempt to lure serious runners to the country. The catalog of 17 events including the Helsinki City Marathon, the Women's 10K (Naisten Kymppi) and Oulu’s Terwamarathon, as well as trail running events such as Helsinki Trail Run and Nuts karhunkierros, which takes place in the spectacular fells of Ruka, Kuusamo.
"About 2,000 foreign running tourists come here every year. But at its best the Stockholm marathon has 5,000 Finns alone," Koskela pointed out.
Few people know that Finland hosts as many as 600-odd running events every year, of which the largest and most international is Helsinki's City Marathon. Nearly 30 percent of the competitors in this year’s event came from abroad. The Helsinki marathon could also act as a feeder event for other smaller races, the editor noted.
Hope from the Chinese
Nowadays almost all business is supported by an app, and the running sector is no different. A number of apps have sprung up to help avid international runners find and plan for events taking place worldwide.
Koskela pointed out that the roots of running tourism run deep and the sector is a fast-growing area, particularly in places like China. Alongside British and German athletes, Finland is hoping that the Chinese will become the third-largest group of sports visitors attending Helsinki’s largest races, said events manager Lotta Hanski.
Officials have already begun courting Chinese sports tourists by inviting journalists and travel agents to last summer’s Helsinki City Marathon. Last weekend, Hanski attended the Berlin marathon to try and whip up interest in the event.
Apart from adding an international flavor to and financially bolstering Finnish events, runners from far-flung corners of the world also help support local businesses, Koskela pointed out.
"Every international running tourist who comes to Finland spends on average 50 or 60 euros with the event organiser. For the tourism, hotel and restaurant sectors, the benefit is 10 – 20 times that," he estimated.